October 24, 2018
by Alexander Litvak, New York City, USA
Veterans, especially ones with service-connected injuries, are notoriously resistant to and skeptical of alternative health practices like Yoga and Dance. Although these have been found effective for rehabilitation and are readily available, they remain ignored and held in contempt because of the stereotype of being perceived as feminine. My own story bears out this reality.
As a Marine Corps Infantry veteran who suffered debilitating injuries during my enlistment, I went through the Veterans Hospital system trying to get back on my feet, figuratively and literally. I had to bottom out before finally admitting I was suffering so horribly, physically and emotionally, that I was willing to betray my pride in being a hyper-masculinized male in order to try the milder form of therapy that is Yoga.
Perhaps taking a Yoga class is not a big deal to you, but for former military men conditioned into the ultimate macho form of patriarchal tribalism, the mere thought of dancing or doing Yoga immediately registers as fear of being shamed and humiliated by peers. We all want to belong and be accepted by our tribe, and even if it’s toxic, stupid and morally wrong, we more often than not conform to fit in and fall in line with the dominant group beliefs.
You see, the military, especially the Marines, beat the feminine-aspect of men right out of them. This is because, if things come to warfare and violence, the marine should be a stone-cold killer, a disciplined drone who follows orders and executes his mission without any qualities that might endear him to his enemy. Thus, the divine feminine qualities inherent in all men, like compassion, nurturing, empathy, loving-kindness, and affection, are psychologically extinguished and replaced with a fearless, aggressive, hyper-masculine warrior archetype which is devoid of emotion. This obedient and callous soldier is conducive to the tribe’s mission: obtaining power, resolving conflict by force, and destruction.
The molding of an elite warrior archetype might serve the military mission while the man is enlisted and contained within his tribe’s locality, but, when released back into the civilian population post-military, it all goes wrong. The distorted warrior archetype becomes a burdensome, growing cancer of toxic masculinity and reactionary clinging to the useless, outdated and change-resistant patriarchal ideals of the old establishment.
Even though I had traded carrying my rifle for a Yoga mat, there was still a tremendous disconnect from my inner feminine due to the damaging beliefs I incurred while in the military service. I realized 15 years later that I was still not fully liberated from toxic stereotypes. For example, when I started dancing 5Rhythms in 2016, I could not dance all 5 waves because subconsciously I still feared disapproval from other men. Mentally, I continued to be crippled by the stigma of being a less than macho man if I allowed myself to move with the feminine qualities of softness, full embodiment of feelings, and graceful fluidity on the dance floor.
I became afraid that I would be perceived as ‘soft’ and ‘weak’ by other men, and even patriarchally oriented women, if I allowed myself to go along with the music that exposed me to the truth of what it means to be a human being. A human being with all my vulnerability, uncertainty, helplessness, fear, and other emotions deemed unfit for a masculine man. Again, I was forced into a dark corner: I either had to defiantly hold onto my old beliefs that a man can only act a certain way or follow my intuition which was telling me to release the shackles of conformity and go along with my own flow.
Thankfully, my intuition had already been sharpened and honed by Yoga to allow more acceptance and self-love and the feminine powers within had stirred from their repressed place in my unconscious mind. The 5Rhythms practice cracked open the floodgates, allowing me to rapidly move deeper into my subconscious as I purged the toxic conditions of macho-ism. It was then that I felt the true profundity of this 5Rhythms practice. I discovered freedom of choice to be totally myself outside of the conditions imposed on me by our patriarchal society.
In my catharsis, I discovered how to feel and explore all the music played in class indiscriminately, with every nerve exposed, totally engaged in the process without judgment or hiding. As I allowed myself to surrender the conditioning of past toxic tribalism, I began to flow without self-imposed restrictions and resistances against one or another type of music. It all became a moving meditation, stripped of the constant mental worry of what others would think or whether it fits a mold. It became a deeply personal experience and a well-spring of freedom from bodily pain.
Soon, I learned to stop limiting myself to which movements I considered appropriate for a masculine male and allowed myself to flow however I wanted to. I mirrored female and male movements, blending them together in creative new ways which have proved to be not only a source of incredible fun, but also therapeutic for my achy arthritic joints, stiffened by the psychological fear of being perceived by others as ‘less than’ a man.
As a result of this self-exploration of both masculine and feminine essences, I have discovered self-acceptance, coupled with a new-found appreciation and respect for women and the sacred feminine motherly qualities that are now integrating back into my psyche. Within the 5Rhythms tribe, surrounded by other dancers seeking the same liberation from trite stereotypes plaguing our contemporary culture, I have found a sense of belonging that has escaped me since I left the Marines in 2001! I feel blessed to have liberated myself from the burden of carrying the cross of past toxic tribalist behaviors that repressed my ability to feel, nurture and love like a fully mature and civilized human being.
5Rhythms dance has also noticeably improved my social skills and affinity for human beings in general. By accepting myself as I am, with all the vulnerability, uncertainty, chaos, and fear that I, as a hyper-masculine male, wouldn’t allow myself to feel, I now get it: I am human, and far from a perfect saint, so who am I to judge anyone inferior to my personal standards of living? Life is more easy-going now that I attempt to see everyone I meet as a blank slate human being. Even though often, in retrospect, I still find myself unconsciously bound by the impressions left by patriarchal beliefs, repeating old toxic patterns and causing more harm than good, I am far better at being mindful on the dance floor and off. Instead of wasting precious mental energy scrutinizing myself and others from a place of deep-seated insecurity and defensive mindedness, I am open to sharing space and learning from my experiences. In a sense, surrendering to the process of watching and allowing has reintegrated the latent feminine nurture qualities within.
Now I can extend this same understanding and compassion to others, going beyond judgment and into acceptance of others as they are. I can relate easily to other civilians now, with more empathy, which makes friendships and new connections so much more intimate and deeper in quality. Without the need to constantly criticize and look for differences, my mind has let go of the irrational defensiveness and mistrust that other people are doing the same to me. Instead, I now trust myself to connect with people on the basis of our shared humanity and can leave behind the depressing illusory thoughts of ‘me vs. them’.
The practice of 5Rhythms has been so helpful towards my integration and self-transformation that I now frequent classes twice a week to continue the ritual of cleansing my consciousness and sharing my enthusiasm and celebration of life. Where once I, as a former Marine and veteran, felt alienated and disconnected, totally alone in my differences from the people of New York City, I am now seeking Oneness, Unity, and collaboration everywhere I go. I have replaced brutality with morality; my 5Rhythms tribe is my new spiritual congregation, where I can constructively sweat out the negativity and restrictions of patriarchal, hyper-masculine conditioning. The dance floor is the new arena where, instead of doing battle, I can connect to my divine inner nature as a man freed to be himself: joyfully, playfully and nonviolently amongst other human beings.
Now I wish, hope and pray that other veterans and macho men of the world recognize that they too can reclaim their inner sensitivity and become even stronger and wiser affectual men. They are capable of the full potential of expression of feelings that is a hallmark of true rehabilitation and integration back into the civilian sector.
Additionally, shedding mental restrictions of gender phobia has made my life more colorful and fun. I have noticed that I am far more spontaneous, adventurous and inquisitive, characteristics I did not allow myself when sticking rigidly to the bro-code. For example, when I was 20, I was shy and couldn’t dance at clubs. I just stood by getting wasted instead of engaging with the game of life. Nowadays, I am no longer just an envious observer but a full participant. I dance unhinged and unleashed at 5Rhythms classes, parties, dance clubs and even on the streets along with the Union Square dancers.
Undergoing this transformational process of reintegrating my inner feminine has also released the decades of pent-up negative toxic emotions within my body. As I have recovered my sensitivity to pain and suffering, I have learned to constructively let that shit go. Unlike many other veterans who bottle shit in and either explode or implode, I have discovered the very human ability to shed tears when I am sad, deeply upset, or hurt (physically or emotionally) and need to detox from the stress and pain. This, too, has been profound: it has become a form of tremendous therapy and self-healing.
To my glorious discovery, I can even cry tears of joy, awe-struck by the beauty of being alive. When totally immersed in the dance, whether alone or with a partner, I am often overcome with an incredible warmth and love that is absolute, divine and so beautiful that it warrants an outpour of blissful emotion. Conversely to the corrupted man-logic, my manhood is secure and stronger than ever before. This is because the joy of dance has brought me into a direct experience with God-consciousness. Something so pure cannot be wrong to express, especially since I feel so free and clear after the dance.
The practice of 5Rhythms has made me confident that I am on a path of healing. It continues to inform my discovery of all the advantages of embracing our inner opposites, liberating me as my feminine and masculine energies have come into balance. I am constantly practicing to see each individual I meet as a human being who is just like me. Each person I encounter desires the same level of kindness, dignity, respect and love we all crave but can’t always access until we recognize that our past conditionings are holding us back from evolving into someone truly great.